Hispanic or Latino?

The government adopted the term “Hispanic” to keep population statistics and monitor compliance to Affirmative Action laws. On the other hand, some believe that the dominant culture in the U.S. imposed the label “Latinos” as a way of erasing hispanics’ identity and their past.  The answer isn’t as clear-cut as one might expect. Choosing one term over the other means taking a political, social, and even a generational stand. Some vigorously support one and condemn the other and would even feel insulted if referred to by one of these appellations.  It’s a never ending debate that I don’t understand.  Writers, poets and artists are perhaps more sensitive about the words. Personally, I don’t mind being referred to either way—Latina or Hispanic.   I believe there are more important issues for those of us with Latin roots to discuss, including the role Hispanics/Latinos play in the future of this country.  We shouldn’t get too touchy about how we are referred.  I’ve noticed that Americans of European descent—even those who are generations removed and have never stepped foot in their homeland—answer easily when someone asks, “What are you?”  “I’m Irish, Italian, Scottish and French, Polish and Russian,” they proudly say.  But for many Latino immigrants, the reply may not come so quickly.  For instance, I was born in Colombia and raised in Venezuela—two neighboring countries that share the same language, race, religion and continent, but have tangible cultural differences. I never felt that I completely belonged to either country.  My cultural heritage was from Colombia, but my personal experiences were from Venezuela.  At school in Caracas, I was considered a foreigner, but when I went to visit relatives in Bogota, they said that my manners and dialect were completely Venezuelan.  It was when I came to live in New Hampshire, however, that those differences were not noteworthy any more.  To my surprise, it was cold New England where I first felt that I really “belonged.”  I was part of an ethnic group that was new and small, and I was proud of it.   I feel more Latina in the U.S. than I did in my homeland.  Fifteen years later, our minority is rapidly growing in the Northeast and elsewhere in the U.S.   I am part of  a nation contained by another nation. I belong to a group that speaks the same language (no matter the accent) and shares the same religion (even when we don’t honor the same saints).  We dance salsa and listen to familiar music, all of them with African roots, and use identical ingredients in our families’ different recipes.   Co-mingled, I embrace my ethnicity as well as my new American nationality.  I immigrated in my mid-twenties, married a gringo and have two children in this melting pot of welcoming citizens.  So when our kids ask me where are they from or what is their heritage, I explain:  “Well, you speak Spanish and English, enjoy both hot dogs and empanadas, sing pop songs and dance salsa—so you’re 100% American and 100% Hispanic at the same time.  You as well as I  are part of a very neat group called “Latino Americanos,” diverse yet constantly trying to adapt to a new culture, to our home.  Maybe, just like all those immigrants who came before us, we are just the latest “true Americans.”

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